Kava, or kava kava, is a plant in the pepper family that is grown in the South Pacific Islands. The root of the plant is used to make a form of tea, which has been used throughout the region for centuries. Drinking kava tea has a calming effect, and because of this the islanders have used it as part of their social and religious rituals, and even for its medicinal benefits. In recent years it has become popular in the US as an all-natural drink that will ease the stress that builds up in our busy world, and help people wind down at the end of the day.
The Latin name for kava kava is Piper Methysticum, which translates as “intoxicating pepper”. Kava works on the limbic system of the brain through its active ingredients, known as kavalactones. These ingredients work specifically on the amygdala, the part of the limbic system that regulates emotions. As a result, Kava is well known to have a relaxing effect on the mind and body.
Traditionally, a drink of kava is prepared like you might brew a tea. The kava root powder is added to a straining bag, e.g., a muslin cloth. There’s no need to be strict about what type of straining bag you use — even women’s panty hose has been used effectively. The important thing is to let the bag steep in warm water to begin the brewing process.
The next step is crucial – the difference between kava root tea and regular tea is the kneading required to extract the good stuff from the root; so the bag must be kneaded in the water. The kneading process continues until the tea is brewed and nothing remains in the straining bag but the coarse fibres of the root. These are either discarded or set aside for a subsequent rinsing and kneading to create a weaker second brew.
This process releases the active ingredients and turns the water a muddy brown colour, which lets you know the tea is ready to drink.
The first thing you may feel after drinking a cup of potent kava is that your lips and mouth are slightly numb. This is normal. One of the active ingredients in kava is an analgesic, so the numbness is a sign you are drinking a good kava.
Next, you will feel calm and content, with a greater sense of wellbeing and happiness; you may even feel euphoric. Any feelings of fear, worry, or stress that you had will diminish. Your frantic, racing modern mind will slow down and your thoughts will become calmer. Your muscles will relax, your body may feel heavy, and eventually you may even feel sleepy.
How kava makes you feel will also depend greatly on the variety, quality, and type of kava you drink. The higher the quality and the fresher the kava, the more potent it will be. The effects are determined by the variety of kava, and the mix of kavalactones or active ingredients.
You’ll generally start to feel the effects 5-15 minutes after drinking a shell of kava root tea. The first sensation is a numbing of the lips, tongue, and mouth. After that comes mental and physical relaxation. Experts recommend that you don’t eat before drinking kava — if you drink kava on a full stomach, the effects will be weaker, or may not occur at all.
Sometimes people don’t feel much different after drinking kava for the first time, and that’s fine. Kava works with the body to produce its effects, and your body may need time to adjust before it responds to the active ingredients in the drink. If that happens, you may not feel the effects of kava until you’ve been drinking it for days or even weeks consecutively. This is known as Reverse Tolerance.
How long the effects last after a cup of kava tea depends on the variety of kava. A potent kava should boost your mood and make you feel happier within 30 minutes, and this feeling will last anywhere between 1-3 hours, although the stress relief and relaxation afterglow can last even longer.
After a few hours you may get sleepy as your muscles relax and your body starts to feel heavy. The duration of the effects also depends on how much kava you drink in a session. It is perfectly safe to have more than one serving in a kava drinking session. Read our tips for getting the best effects from your kava drinking experience.
Yes, kava is legal in the US and in most countries around the world. Kava is classified as an Herbal Supplement.
The World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius concluded that kava has had at least a 1,500 year history of relatively safe use, and that kava used in the traditional way is safe for human consumption. One reason for this is that if you drink too much kava you will feel nauseous, so there is an incentive to limit your consumption. This is kava’s way of signalling that you’ve had enough for the night.
Excessive daily consumption of kava over a long period of time can lead to a minor skin condition (dry or itchy skin) known as Kava Dermopathy. This is a completely reversible condition, and the simple solution is to take a break from drinking kava for a while. One European study that concluded kava was linked to liver damage led people to wonder whether kava tea is safe, but the study was later refuted for its bad science.
Unfortunately, misinformation stemming from that study is still being spread online, and is regularly cited in poorly researched articles. There are an extremely small number of cases where kava has been linked to liver damage. As with any herbal substance or pharmaceutical, there is always the possibility of an adverse or allergic reaction to the product, but it is very small. However, it is recommended that anyone with pre-existing liver problems does not drink kava.
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